Simon Kirby - (1) Cultural Evolution in the Lab shows how Language is Built (2) Robotic Wardrobes and Forgetful Musicians: how a Cognitive Scientist Ended up Making Device Art

When: 2021-10-11 14:00-16:00 (Tallinn time)
Where: CUDAN Open Lab (online)

The event is public via zoom
Website: https://www.simonkirby.net/

Abstract – Prof. Simon Kirby presents two talks at the CUDAN Open Lab Seminar Series:

(1) Cultural Evolution in the Lab shows how Language is Built

Perhaps more than anything else, language makes humans exceptional. Unlike any other species we know of, humans frequently produce completely novel sequences of signals and use them to successfully transmit similarly novel thoughts. This trait is surely very useful, leading many researchers to believe that language should be explained primarily as a biological adaptation, shaped by natural selection of genes that endow us with an innate language faculty. However, in this talk, I will argue that it is cultural, rather than biological, evolution that should be credited with giving us this uniquely productive trait. How have we come to this conclusion? I will show how to simulate cultural evolution in the experiment lab, using games in which participants imitate the behaviour of previous participants. The results of these games show that there are two competing pressures acting in cultural evolution: learning, which leads to compressible behaviours; and use, which leads to expressive ones. The structures we see in human language (and other human behaviours, like music) are the inevitable product of these two forces.

(2) Robotic Wardrobes and Forgetful Musicians: how a Cognitive Scientist Ended up Making Device Art

In this presentation, I will talk about a series of interactive art installations that I have developed over the past decade or so with a range of collaborators, including: an emotional robotic band that’s obsessed with its own celebrity; a story telling record player whose memories are ever changing; a device that never forgets what it hears; and a collection of singing boxes for a forest at night. I’m hoping that through the presentation and discussion we can figure out together, not only how, but why a cognitive scientist working in cultural evolution ended up making these things.

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